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Pole to Pole

Day 27: Leningrad

Leningrad, USSR 
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The Alexander Column.
Michael Palin - Pole to PoleA few minutes' walk away is the equestrian statue of Peter the Great. Set on a huge granite rock, garlanded Peter, his bronze horse rearing into the air, looks as if he is about to leap the Neva river. It is a powerful and stirring embodiment of controlled strength and so much loved by the people of Leningrad that there is nearly always a line of newlyweds waiting to be photographed beside it. This set me to thinking of Lenin's statue at the Finland Station and its solitary faded rose. It's clear that Peter, old despot that he was, retains a much stronger place in the affections of the inhabitants. The city was built by him and may well go back to him. In a recent poll fifty-two per cent voted to change the city's name to St Petersburg.

We eat at a Georgian restaurant tonight. Set in an anonymous block in a side street it has a striking avant-garde interior, which I think is meant to recreate the centre of an Egyptian pyramid. It looks to be full of fashion models. Very tasty Georgian meatballs and a fresh bread called lavash. Fraser has ordered real French champagne for us to toast the third birthday of his son Jack. The only problem is that Volodya has to drive the van again. As we swerve and shudder our way home I ask Volodya where he spent his two-year national service.

'In tanks,' he shouts, and we end the day on a laugh.
Leningrad, USSR 
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Peter the Great about to leap the Neva River.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 27
  • Country/sea: USSR
  • Place: Leningrad
  • Book page no: 59

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